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40 T/D/Y #25: Chung Moo!

Around the time that I started working for the Postal Service, my friends Doug and Eldy started martial-arts training in a system called Chung Moo Doe (also known, particularly on the West Coast, as Oom Yung Doe). This was primarily Doug’s doing; he’d been talking for a while about how we were “skinny white guys who’d never get girls” (Eldy’s Chinese, actually, but the principle still applied), and martial arts was a form of exercise that would interest us. Back in my early teens, we’d had fun for a while playing around with staff fighting using broomsticks, so he had a point. I’d been indifferent to pursuing it, not really taking Doug seriously, but he talked Eldy into looking at schools, and if I recall correctly they accidentally stumbled into Instructor Jason, the owner of a new Chung Moo Doe franchise, and were convinced to give that a try.

One cool thing about Chung Moo Doe was its basic concept of being a specific structured blend of eight different martial arts, which included tai chi, kung fu, jiu jitsu, and weapons such as staff and sword. I quickly became interested once they started practicing various moves, and was envious when I saw the training weapons they had; it looked like a lot of fun. I was working two jobs through that summer and autumn, so I didn’t have the time to join them. However, the same week that I left the supermarket and started working only for the Postal Service, I went to give Chung Moo a try. I hadn’t been talking about it at home, so my parents were rather surprised that Saturday when I announced I was going to a tai chi class with Doug and Eldy. I liked the class, signed up for a one-month trial, and then to the regular training contract.

I had a few reasons for starting my martial-arts training. As Doug had pointed out, I was a skinny guy who wasn’t getting any regular exercise; the training would let me exercise, keeping me healthier, and hopefully improve my strength, stamina, and flexibility. I knew that it would be a challenging workout and that it required developing concentration and discipline, so I hoped that these traits would improve my discipline in other matters, such as my halfhearted job search. I knew that improving my general fitness and mental discipline, and overcoming the challenges of the training, would also improve my self-confidence, which was often woefully lacking. And finally, it simply promised to be a fun activity to do with my friends, and an opportunity to meet some new people as well.

The main drawback to the training was its cost: the basic training contract was expensive, and after attaining a couple belt ranks they put on some pressure to sign up for the “advanced training” program, promising more attention and deeper training but at a substantially higher price. As I mentioned, the school was part of a national franchise, and there was a hierarchy of instructors from the local school-owner level to national instructors who traveled around the schools and led advanced training seminars which cost an additional fee. It later turned out that the founder of the Chung Moo Doe system and several of the highest-level instructors had been convicted of tax fraud and were in prison. I didn’t know about the tax fraud business when I joined, of course, and I never bothered to look into other martial-arts schools to compare the training costs. I didn’t like the expense, and I didn’t like the pressure to sign up for the more expensive advanced training and the special extra-fee seminars, but I decided I really wanted to continue and I signed on.

My advantage was that I had free time to exploit. The training contracts had a set fee for the two-year program, not a per-class fee, and I could attend as many regular classes as I wished. The school had weekday afternoon classes early enough that I could attend before going to work, so I went three times in the work week and Saturday mornings as well. Additionally, because most people work during the day, the afternoon classes were sparsely attended. For my first year or so, often just Doug, Eldy, and myself would be there; eventually first Eldy and then Doug got new jobs and had to give up training, while I carried on and not infrequently had the class to myself.

The advanced training program was designed to lead to the first-degree black-belt test in two years, and sure enough in December 1997 I took and passed my test. Shortly afterward, some changes took place at the school. We were told that the franchise system was breaking up; Chung Moo Doe as a martial-arts system would continue, but the individual schools were free to go off in their own directions. After a few months Instructor Jason decided to change the curriculum he taught from Chung Moo Doe to focus on traditional Chinese tai chi and kung fu with some weapons. I enjoyed those particular arts and was happy to explore them further, and I was friends with Instructor Jason, so I was happy to stay as the school changed course.

Additionally, the school change directly benefitted me: because Instructor Jason was going off on his own, he no longer could use the Chung Moo Doe marketing materials and needed new ones; I had some desktop publishing experience at that point and was able to design and produce some basic flyers and brochures for him. As a result, I bartered my services in exchange for continued training, and did not have to pay any regular training fees for the next couple years. That did not make the actual price of my initial two years of training any less ridiculously expensive, but in comparing the amount of time I spent on the desktop publishing work to the amount of continued training I received, I definitely came out ahead in the bargain and mitigated the cost of the initial training. When after a couple of years Instructor Jason decided he needed more professional work than I could produce on my own and ended the deal, his training fees were more reasonable than the Chung Moo Doe system had been, so I felt that it had all worked out well.

I continued training right until I moved to Seattle. My training became more irregular after I started working full-time in Boston, but I still usually managed to get to class at least a couple times a week. Partly because of the curriculum change, partly because of the change in my available time, and partly because I wasn’t in a hurry and wasn’t feeling pressured to meet a particular contractual goal, I never ended up earning a second-degree black belt. After I moved to Seattle, I wanted to continue with some kind of training, but I never put time into finding a new school, and eventually didn’t have money to spare for it. (There are Oom Yung Doe schools in Seattle, but I expected they would still be very expensive, and having done that system once already, I didn’t want to start over.) I’ve done some aikido training with my friend John, tried out a tai chi school for a few months but didn’t feel I was getting enough of a workout and also ran out of spare funds, and currently am back to doing some basic mixed martial-arts sparring with John and some others.

I did get a lot out of my years of martial-arts training. I definitely improved my overall fitness, flexibility, balance, and maybe even grace; it also helped with my dancing. I proved that I could put my mind to some arduous work and persist with it, and to a goal that was both physically and mentally challenging and accomplish it. I gained confidence in myself and demonstrated that I did have discipline and could exert it. However, I continued to struggle with applying that discipline and focus to other tasks that I loathed, such as my job search, or even tasks I was interested in but didn’t feel strongly compelled to do within a set time, such as writing for my friend Jay’s zine. But even if the training fell short of some of its grandiose promises and my hopes, or if I fell short of changing and improving myself as much as I could, I still enjoyed my training and I feel in the end the time and money spent was worthwhile to me.

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